We ran up the stairs in what must have been record time. The wards on the containment levels had protected the Guardians there, but once the three of us reached the citadel’s main floor, Piaras’s handiwork was sprawled all around us.
Piaras knew to shield his voice when he practiced. More important, he knew how. I didn’t know what had happened here, but it couldn’t have been Piaras’s fault. I’d never seen Mychael that angry, and Ronan Cayle looked like he’d skipped angry and gone straight to enraged.
Dammit to hell.
We saw three kinds of Guardians on the way to the music room: asleep, stunned, and mostly awake. The asleep ones had been caught completely unawares. The stunned ones had probably heard a couple of notes before they could get their shields up. The mostly awake ones were the experienced Guardians who knew what they heard and immediately protected themselves.
There were way too few of those.
This morning I’d thought I was in trouble. I knew Piaras was in trouble.
The corridor in front of the music room looked like the aftermath of a bad bar fight or a good night out—some of the Guardians were snoring; some were happily curled on their sides; and one had slid down the closed music room doors. He wasn’t asleep, but he wasn’t quite with us, either.
Mychael stepped over the Guardians on the floor, pushed the dazed one aside, and flung open the doors. Piaras was there and, surprisingly, so was Phaelan.
Piaras looked up from his music stand, his big brown eyes like a deer caught in torchlight. He knew from the looks on our faces that something was deathly wrong, and it was his fault. Then he saw the Guardians on the floor behind Mychael, and every bit of color drained from his face.
Phaelan was sprawled in a chair reading a book— completely conscious and utterly clueless.
I jerked the book out of his lap. He plucked the plugs out of his ears, and sat up indignantly.
I pointed to the pile of Guardians outside the open door. One Guardian staggered by, leaning on the wall for support.
Phaelan whistled. “Damn, looks like my crew on shore leave. Did the kid do that?”
Phaelan grinned at Piaras and gave him a thumbs up. “Good work, kid.” He stopped and took in everyone’s expressions, including Piaras’s. The grin vanished, and the thumb wilted. “Not good work?”
Mychael pushed past Piaras and went to the air vent near the ceiling. Apparently that was how Piaras’s voice had traveled throughout the citadel, so that’s where Mychael aimed his. He took a deep breath and sang. The spellsong was loud; it was discordant; and it commanded every sleeping Guardian to wake up. Now. When he finished, he turned on Piaras, his eyes blazing.
“Did you disable the shields on this room?” he demanded.
“No!” Piaras was horrified. “The shields were down?”
"We could hear you in the containment rooms, through the air vent.”
“I checked the shields before I started,” Piaras protested. “They were up the entire time.”
From the moment he came through the door, Ronan Cayle had been stalking around the edge of the room like a hound on a fresh scent. “Not for your last song, they weren’t.” He never took his eyes off the walls. “And the shields on this room weren’t disabled. They were cut.” Cayle stopped in front of a section of wall near the air vent. “A careful, surgical cut,” he said, sliding his hand up the wall. His hand stopped. “A cut that started right here.” He quickly pulled a chair over, stood on it, and moved his hand slowly over the metal grille of the vent, careful not to touch it. “And it extended right into the air vent.”
Piaras looked like he had stopped breathing or had forgotten how. “A cut? But I would have known if someone slashed the shields.”
“Not if someone very talented didn’t want you to know,” Cayle said, never taking his eyes off the vent. He carefully placed his fingertips on the grille. “And that someone took great care so you would not know—and chose the air vent so your song would reach the most people.” Cayle sounded like he almost admired the bastard’s work.
“Where could they have cut the shields from?” I asked.
“Since they were cut while Piaras was singing, it wasn’t from inside this room,” Mychael said. “They would have worked from the other side of the wall.”
“What’s back there?”
“Two rooms. The reception area for visitors and a common room where the men relax when they’re not on duty.”
“So it was guests or Guardians.”
Mychael’s eyes were blue frost. “None of my men would have done this,” he said quietly.
“Then one of your guests was up to no good,” I told him.
“Who’d want all the Guardians to take a nap?” Phaelan asked.
Mychael and I looked at each other. Nightshades or Khrynsani. Take your pick. The Nightshades wanted to kill Mychael. The Khrynsani wanted me alive. Both would love to get the Saghred. Sleeping Guardians would make getting any of the above a whole lot easier.
Mychael glared at the wall. “Whoever did it simply walked out through sleeping Guardians.”
“Or has blended back into the woodwork,” I said. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me right now, but two questions demanded asking. “Well, whoever it was, how would they’ve known Piaras would be in here, and what spellsongs he’d be practicing?”
Piaras cleared his throat. “I reserved the room last night, and I had to give a reason.” He paused apologetically. “I wrote ‘sleepsongs.’ ”
“The logbook is on a desk down the hall,” Mychael told me.
I was incredulous. “Anyone could have seen it?”
“It’s a book to reserve time in a music room, Raine. A spellsinger practicing is hardly a state secret.” Mychael looked at the air vent. “Is it still asleep?”
I didn’t need to ask who “it” was. There was no pressure in the center of my chest from the Saghred. I still hesitated before answering. “Yes.”
“You don’t sound sure.”
“I’m sure it’s asleep. I just don’t trust it.”
Cayle spoke. “If it is asleep, the king’s ransom question is how long will it stay that way.”
“A century or two would be nice,” I muttered.
Piaras looked from one of us to the other, now scared and confused.
“Should we tell Piaras what he just did?” I asked Mychael.
“He needs to know.”
Out in the corridor, Guardians were getting to their feet in response to their paladin’s voice; some of them had thrown an arm over a brother’s shoulder for support. It was starting to look less like nap time and more like the morning after a night out.
“You mean that?” Piaras asked. He sounded a little sick.
“I’m afraid you did more than that,” I told him.
“I did more?”
“Mychael and Maestro Cayle were spellsinging the Saghred to sleep, but you beat them to it.”
“Maestro?” Piaras whispered in sheer terror.
Somehow I didn’t think Piaras had heard anything past “Maestro.”
Mychael spoke. “Ronan, this is your audition for tomorrow.”
Cayle’s amber eyes were locked on Piaras. “So you’re Master Rivalin. Audition, hell. There’ll be no audition.”
Phaelan came to his feet. I was about to punch Ronan Cayle.
Piaras stood perfectly still, his breathing shallow. “I no longer have an audition.” He didn’t ask it as a question, and he clenched his jaw against any further show of emotion. He was devastated, but he was going to keep his dignity. “I understand, sir.”
Phaelan stepped up beside me, and I laid a restraining hand on his arm. If he was going after Cayle, he’d have to get in line behind me.
“No, you don’t understand,” Cayle told him. “You don’t knock out half the Guardians in the citadel and then audition.” He walked slowly around Piaras, assessing what he saw and what he could not see.
The Piaras I saw was tall, had liquid brown eyes and tousled dark curls, and was on the verge of becoming a handsome young man. Piaras saw awkwardness and a voice that would always be less than perfect. I think Ronan Cayle was seeing a powerful, loose cannon who’d taken out most of Mid’s main line of defense.
“Yes, you’re very dangerous,” the maestro said softly.
His voice was velvet-covered steel. “With the right song, you’d be lethal. You’re unpredictable, impulsive, and you have absolutely no idea of your potential.”
Piaras swallowed. “Potential, sir?”
“Potential.” Cayle stopped in front of Piaras and smiled slowly. “For the good of the seven kingdoms, I’d better take you as a student.” His smile broadened and those amber eyes glittered. “As to auditioning, you just did.”
Piaras gaped in disbelief. “You’re accepting me?”
“I am.” Cayle chuckled softly. “You’ve left me no choice.”
“And without a formal audition,” Mychael told Piaras, his lips curling into a small smile. “That’s a first, isn’t it, Ronan?”
“It is. Be at my tower at exactly eight bells tomorrow morning,” Cayle told Piaras. “Mychael can tell you where it is.” The smile vanished. “And come prepared to work.”
Piaras smiled like the sun had just come out. “Thank you, sir.”
Ronan Cayle laughed, a short bark. “We’ll see how thankful you are after tomorrow. And by the way, my students are expected to sprint to the top of my tower in three minutes or less. Builds lung capacity.” There was an evil glint in those amber eyes. “You’re going to need it.”
“A cut shield explains Piaras spellsinging my men to sleep,” Mychael said. “But it doesn’t tell me who did the cutting, or why. It also doesn’t tell me how Piaras sang the Saghred to sleep. That was a battlefield sleepsong; it shouldn’t have worked.”
Piaras blinked. “I did what?”
“Your voice put the rock to sleep,” I told him. “That was that other thing you did.”
“How could…? I never meant to… I was up here; the Saghred is down there.” Realization dawned on him. “There are air ducts in the containment rooms.”
Mychael nodded. “We could hear you loud and clear.”
“Sir, I’m sorry,” Piaras hurried to explain. “I never meant to—”
Mychael held up a hand. “I know you didn’t, and I’m not blaming you. This room stays shielded to prevent exactly what just happened. The sabotage was not your fault. And regardless of how you did it, you did put the Saghred to sleep, and for that you have my thanks.”
“It was almost like the Saghred wanted to go to sleep once it heard you,” I told Piaras. “It liked what it heard.” I paused uneasily. “A lot.”
“It liked Piaras’s song?” Phaelan asked.
“The Saghred and those inside the Saghred liked Piaras’s song,” I clarified. “And I’m not sure if either is a good thing.”
Piaras didn’t move. “What do you mean?”
“I got the feeling the Saghred’s inmates enjoyed your song a little bit too much—and so did the rock.”
“Is the rock asleep?” Phaelan asked.
“If it’s asleep, it doesn’t really matter what its taste in music is.”
Logic was all well and good, but Phaelan wasn’t the one with a growing, evil fan base.
Piaras was clearly creeped. “I don’t want the Saghred’s inmates to like me.” He lowered his voice. “Especially you know who.”
“I don’t want him to like you, either.” Neither one of us felt the need to say the name out loud. Sarad Nukpana was asleep. Probably. Saying his name right now didn’t seem like a good idea, kind of like summoning an evil genie out of a bottle.
Last week, Sarad Nukpana had given me a choice: either I gave him a demonstration of the Saghred’s power, or he would sacrifice Piaras to the Saghred. Piaras was alive. Nukpana was inside the Saghred. Now Nukpana let Piaras sing him to sleep. I needed to know why, and I needed to know now. If the Saghred had gone to sleep of its own volition, it’d probably wake up the same way.
I pulled Mychael aside. “So, is there a user’s manual for the Saghred?” My words were for his ears alone. Thanks to our saboteur, I didn’t know who could be listening.
He looked honestly baffled. “A what?”
“User’s manual, directions, instructions, why the damned thing fought two master spellsingers, but rolled over and went to sleep when Piaras sang to it.”
“The Scriptorium has several books on the Saghred.”
“Good. I want to read them.”
“They’re in Old Goblin.”
“Not a problem. I read Old Goblin.”
Mychael seemed reluctant. I knew why.
I waited a few seconds until my voice wouldn’t sound as exasperated as I felt. “Yes, the Saghred’s been in my head,” I said through only partially clenched teeth. “And I am well aware that you can’t entirely trust me as long as there’s a chance it will come back. But do you really think it’s going to help our cause to keep me locked away and stupid? If any of those books can tell me how to unhook myself from that rock, I want to know about it. And I’m not the only one in danger here.” I glanced at Piaras; he was talking earnestly with Ronan Cayle. I lowered my voice even further. “I want to know everything that Sarad Nukpana knows, and then some.”
Mychael hesitated, but not for long. “I’ll make the arrangements.”
“Sir?” came a familiar voice from the doorway.
It was Riston. I couldn’t help but notice that he had a bad case of bedhead, and he still looked a little dazed. Piaras winced apologetically. Phaelan’s laugh came out as a snort.
“Sir, the chief watcher is here to see you.” Riston looked puzzled. “And he said he brought you a hairbrush.”